City lands Horse Gulch parcel

Horse Gulch got another hand up last week. Great Outdoors Colorado awarded the City of Durango $1.2 million to help purchase a large section of Raider Ridge, a crucial connection in the area that’s become known as “Durango’s Central Park.”

Horse Gulch is one of Durango’s only backyard, backcountry experiences. Just minutes from downtown, Horse Gulch and the popular Telegraph Trail system offer more than 30 miles of trails that appeal to a wide variety of users. However, Horse Gulch has always been more than a popular recreational resource. The area is made up of a patchwork of private and public land, and the land known as Ewing Mesa represents the most significant private holding. In 2008, that property was subdivided into 54 individual 35-acre parcels, several of which stretch up into the “Meadow” and could be purchased at any time.

At the same time, the City of Durango has been actively working to preserve the Gulch. The City has already preserved or is in the process of preserving 738 acres in the area. The $1.2 million grant will be used to purchase an additional 366 acres along Raider Ridge, which is currently owned by Fort Lewis College.

Paul Wilbert, chair of Durango’s Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board, commented, “This is huge news for Durango. Aside from being a spectacular recreational area, this acreage drapes over both sides of Raider Ridge, so preserving this property guarantees there will never be trophy homes on this section of this very visible ridgeline above Durango.”

Horse Gulch has been identified in the City’s Open Space Master Plan as a priority for preservation. Mary Monroe, executive director of Trails 2000, commended the City for working diligently to buy up and preserve significant amounts of the 1,900 acres of private property inside Horse Gulch.

“The City is doing a fabulous job unifying the ownership adjacent to Ewing Mesa and creating connection opportunities from Durango to Three Springs,” she said. “That in and of itself, fortifies our trail system. This is all very important, especially given the results of the Parks, Open Space and Trails plan classifying trails as a top value and need in our community.”

A conservation easement for the Raider’s Ridge parcel will be held by La Plata Open Space Conservancy and will preserve the land as open space in perpetuity.  


Notorious developer strikes again

A blackmail artist has stepped back into Southwest Colorado. Tom Chapman, a notorious real estate developer based near Delta, recently bought mining claims in Bear Creek Canyon, near Telluride Ski Area, and has declared the area off-limits to skiers.

For years, Bear Creek has offered some of Colorado’s finest sidecountry skiing via a series of backcountry gates. In addition, the ski company has been discussing the potential for expanding operations into the valley. Apparently, Chapman smelled opportunity.  

The developer’s strategy has become well known. He typically buys private parcels located within wilderness areas, national parks or other sensitive places and then announces plans to develop them. His goal all along is to get the U.S. Forest Service to swap land that can be more readily developed.

His strategy succeeded in the early 1990s when Chapman bought a private parcel deep within Colorado’s West Elk Wilderness. When his desired land exchange was not forthcoming, he had materials helicoptered into the inholding and hired crews to begin assembling a house. The Forest Service promptly traded him 110 acres of more easily developed land near Alta Lakes, not far from the Telluride Ski Area. Critics said the Forest Service caved too quickly and gave him land that was rapidly escalating in price. Bolstered by that success, Chapman attempted repeats in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area near Beaver Creek, the Fossil Ridge Wilderness near Gunnison and at several other locations in Colorado.

Chapman’s current scam involved paying $246,000 for the Bear Creek mining claims, according to the Telluride Watch. He promptly notified law enforcement that he would prosecute any skiers who crossed the property. Chapman now owns large parts of the ski routes “Deep and Dangerous” and “Graveyard.” In the summer, access will be restricted to portions of the Wasatch and East Fork of Bear Creek trails.

Telluride Ski & Golf CEO Dave Riley, whose expansion plans would seem to be Chapman’s target, told the local papers that he was trying to digest the news.


Prehistoric village preserved in Bluff

Residents of the Four Corners are celebrating the recent purchase of a key archaeological site in Bluff, Utah. After several years of negotiations and fund raising, the Southwest Heritage Foundation is now the steward of a 10-acre prehistoric village and an additional five acres of surrounding sandstone cliffs. The land was formerly held by the Utah School Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).

“This represents the first sale of SITLA-administered lands for the express purpose of preserving a significant archaeological site for scientific research,” said Kenneth Wintch, SITLA archaeologist.

The purchase is the latest chapter in a process that began 20 years ago when Bluff residents, concerned that the site might be commercially developed, banded together to preserve the site as open space. The Navajo Twins Pueblo I site is one of the earliest and largest settlements along the San Juan River and was occupied from 750 - 900 and again during the Pueblo III era, 1150 - 1200.

“Despite its location right in town, the site is well preserved and is a rare and valuable resource for Southwest archaeological research,” said Bill Davis, SWHF board president. It is also the “type site” for the distinctive Bluff black-on-red pottery that was widely distributed throughout the Colorado Plateau.

Blanding archaeologist Winston Hurst is designing interpretive signs that will depict the village as it may have looked 1,200 years ago. “This site is not much to look at, as ruins go,” he said. “It’s certainly no Cliff Palace or Pueblo Bonito. But it’s a tremendously important and interesting archaeological place. It is key to our understanding of the ninth century AD Pueblo people in the San Juan country, and the heart of a wonderful, ancient Puebloan ritual landscape that we’re only just beginning to understand.”

– Will Sands




In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows